Review: Does Wolfgang Van Halen’s ‘Mammoth WVH’ live up to lofty expectations?

Mammoth WVH, Wolfgang Van Halen

There are a couple ways to listen to the debut of Wolfgang Van Halen’s Mammoth WVH.

Mammoth WVH
Wolfgang Van Halen
Explorer1 Music Group, June 11

The first comes through expectations of the 30-year-old son of a man who changed rock guitar, and whose band was America’s answer to Led Zeppelin. The son is the third generation of a great musical family and the benefactor of a musical dynasty.  

The second is a bit simpler: listening to a gifted multi-instrumentalist who toured with Creed spinoff Tremonti because it’s a style that suits him.  

But through that prism, we might not care so much about his Mammoth WVH record, which comes out June 11. Maybe it’s fair, maybe not. But there’s just no getting past the last name, which creates expectations. Just ask Julian Lennon and Jakob Dylan.

We know Van Halen is talented. He’s a better all-around musician than most studio players on multiple instruments, which he shows on the record. As a player, he could be a one-man Wrecking Crew. 

But maybe it’s that single-mindedness accounting for lack of creative tension or legitimate spark on Mammoth WVH. As bassist in the final version of Van Halen, he saw firsthand what the dynamics of a long relationship between songwriters could accomplish. 

The younger Van Halen clearly understands what goes into a functionally solid rock song. But those songs are calculated; more Creed or Stone Temple Pilots than the “throw a match into the dynamite factory and see what happens” approach of Van Halen.  

His music is accessible and sounds professional. But, other than putting all the logistics on his own shoulders, there’s not a lot of risk taking. That means there’s less reward. 

The good news is some of the unfair expectations melt away after a couple listens, leaving a good rock record.  

You may have already heard its best two songs because they’re singles: “Distance,” initially released late last year, as a tribute to Edward Van Halen after his death. It wasn’t initially planned for the album, but big hits have a way of changing plans. 

The other single, “Don’t Back Down,” is a barn-burner with a big riff, a fun video and a stadium vibe (fitting the bill nicely when Mammoth WVH opens for Guns N’ Roses this summer). It’s hard not to bounce your head along to some seriously driving drumming (most multi-instrumentalists just manage on drums. Not Van Halen, who plays hard and checks all the drum boxes, just like Uncle Alex). 

Album openers “Mr. Ed,” “Horribly Right,” and “Epiphany” follow the guitar rock map, with the right tone, layers and changes (and, yes, guitar solo hammer-ons, which only make sense). Wolfgang Van Halen’s vocals are fine but seem to lack the ability to make songs better. It’s clear he can sing with some feeling but is probably better suited to backing vocals. 

After the aforementioned “Don’t Back Down,” “Resolve” shows some momentum, with a vocal hook that sticks. “You’ll Be the One” is average at best, though Van Halen dives into a guitar solo that makes one wonder why he isn’t a full-time guitarist (because he’s too good of a drummer?). 

After the so-so “Mammoth,” on which Van Halen sings of having a mammoth weight on his shoulders, “Circles” features some of the best vocals on the record (and a vibe that grows on you). “The Big Picture” and “Think it Over” are fairly pedestrian, despite some effort at hooks. 

But Van Halen comes back strong on “You’re to Blame,” again showing he’s no moonlighting drummer—or guitarist, as the lead scorches. The 30-year-old shows his roots on “Feel,” especially during the breakdown, which lets him prove he doesn’t just play so many instruments to pad a resume. “Stone” has some real heft to it, showing some of his best work comes when he leans on his guitar abilities.  

Van Halen shows enough intrigue and ability to merit watching. The good news for him is that he can go in just about any direction he wants, not only because of his last name, but because he really is that good. He could be even better bouncing all that talent off a few contemporaries. 

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(8) Comments

  1. Todd Franklin

    This is an accurate and fair review of Wolfgang’s debut album. Wolfgang displays adequate musical talent, but the album lacks the creativity and freshness of a band effort. Playing all of the instruments by himself is an impressive feat, but it provides little in the way of inspiration. Most of the drum patterns are virtually same and the vocal approach is also similar on each track. The album is receiving far more accolades on social media than it deserves primarily because of Wolf’s famous last name and the enormous marketing effort that has gone into launching this album. When was the last time you saw multiple national TV appearances for a band that doesn’t even have a record out yet?! These factors combined with the general dearth of new rock material has placed Wolfgang in the favorable position to succeed commercially. Here’s hoping that his next effort is a true band effort rather than a one-man show

  2. Kim Stephen Parish

    I have been very captivated by Wolfgang Van Halen’s new album. From the first, I have been hooked. It is a great album in my humble opinion. These so called professional reviewers must have been listening to mediocre rock and roll for so long that they’re numb and can’t recognize something revolutionary.

    1. Toni Havan

      I have to agree. It's his voice that captivates me. That high register soars without screaming. Think it Over is my favorite. Others are You're to Blame, and Epiphany, and Distance. I like what I like, so the critics don't matter.

  3. Julie

    Give the kid some time. He'll find his rock and roll angst and surprise and delight us all. He's got the talent....he just needs to find the pain that makes good rock music.

  4. Ryan Hampson

    Review is tip-toeing around being directly critical a bit, here. Humble opinion is this is definitely something fresh and exciting. Bits of his Dad's talents and recognizable style rubbed off, but taken in its own directions too. I'm most perplexed how his vocals don't stack up. I think he's got some great range and emotion. Definitely give it good listen through. Mr. Ed, Horribly Right, Don't Back Down and Epiphany are great but, I'm enjoying Think It Over, Circles, and Stone quite a bit.

  5. Sven

    Listened to this album, very open minded. Every song sounds the same. It almost sounds mono and very linear. He is 30, has toured and definitely been around, if he doesn’t have it by now, sorry. The effort is great (played all instruments, and wrote), the production value is top notch, but sound like all the other mediocre garage band rock on any music stream.

  6. Toni Havan

    Nah Think it Over is my fave so far as well as Distance. And his voice? Omg. It soars without having to scream. Gorgeous 💕 Other favs are You're to Blame and Epiphany! All so good though. This is new rock and I am here for it!!

  7. Ryan David Fortune

    Just purchased and listened to the Vinyl. I kept waiting for that moment that screamed Rock Star. It never happened. Its a nice album, but nothing great. Take away his last name and this is in the bargain bin in a year. I have to say I am a little disappointed . It basically sound the same through out the whole album. No variety at all.

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